In no limit hold em, it’s cheaper to put your opponent to the test early in a hand, rather than passively calling along. This is because as you get further into a hand, your opponent will be making larger bets. The bet size is a percentage of the pot, and as the pot keeps growing, it costs more and more to call on each of the later streets. It may seem cheaper to call with a marginal hand on the flop and “see what develops.” But you’ll save money and improve your chances of winning the pot by raising early. Not many opponents are capable of a strong re-raise with air. And if your opponent is capable of a big move like that, you’ll have a chance to pick him off the next time you flop big.


An example of putting your opponent to the test early comes to mind from a recent SNG hand I played. It was eight-handed, $15/$30 blinds (some idiot managed to get himself eliminated at $10/$20 blinds, as usual). The player UTG+1 (second to act) made a standard raise to $90. Everyone folded around to me in the big blind, and I had T9 of diamonds. I had ~$1600 in chips and my opponent had about ~$1500. A suited connector is certainly worth a call out of the big blind in the early going. I’d even call with this hand at or near the button vs. an early position raiser in the early stages of a tournament.


The flop comes Q92 with two hearts, and I check. I’m out of position, and I want to see what my opponent will do. When I call a raise from the blinds, I almost always check, whether I have a hand or not. Leading out from the blinds is often a sign of great strength vs. multiple opponents. Against a single opponent, it can look a bit weak (if I really had a hand, why wouldn’t I go for a check-raise and earn an extra bet?). Plus, it’s just too easy for my opponent to raise me on the flop if I lead out, with or without a hand. But if I raise him, a check-raise no less, he probably won’t make a move without a real hand.


I check, and my opponent makes a standard half-pot continuation bet. Since the half-pot continuation bet was popularized by Harrington as being a “cheap bluff,” the currency of this bet has really gone down. In fact, if you are making a continuation bet, I’d suggest betting no less than 2/3 of the pot. No one takes a half-pot bet seriously anymore. Anyway, this bet confirms my thinking: my opponent probably has AK or AJ and is just taking a stab at the pot. If the fellow really had AQ, KQ, or trip queens he’d bet more to protect against a variety of draws I might have.


Too many passive players will think to themselves, well I only have second-pair, and my opponent has shown strength pre-flop and on the flop: maybe I should just call here and see what happens on the turn. On some boards that may be a prudent approach. But my opponent either has a queen or he doesn’t. If the flop was KQ9 or AQ9 I’d rarely raise here — I probably wouldn’t even call. But Q92 and holding second-pair, I’m afraid of exactly one card: a queen. There aren’t a whole lot of strong raising hands with a queen, and he’s either holding one of those hands or not. Plus, my opponent might not even re-raise me with weaker queens, like KQ, QJ, or QT after getting check-raised.


I check-raise, and quickly scoop the pot. If I’d passively called along, who knows what might have happened on the turn? Perhaps my opponent would have hit that ace he was looking for, or decided to make a large bet. I’d have no idea where I was at in the hand. In the end, it was cheaper and more profitable to define the hand with an aggressive move early.

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